What does online learning mean?

I have spent some of this week conducting an organisational review of our cluster and surveyed principals on their school’s readiness for / attitude to online learning.  One interesting comment on the nature of online learning has prompted me to blog to clarify.

A few years ago Cantatech’s distance programme was primarily based on a delivery model of learning where the video conference acted as an information transmission point.  For a few years our teachers even had two VCs a week (which creates huge pressure on students’ timetables as well as other problems).  These were very traditional lessons where the teacher dominated.  Outside of this time students worked through paper based resources, very much like they do in the Correspondence schools (although good to see some attempt to move this forward recently).
Over the last three and a bit years we have been moving teachers away from this to a more learner centred online model of learning (similar to what is developing internationally) where a VC still runs every week, but it is just one piece in the larger online puzzle.  All the VLN clusters have been moving to the use of more asynchronous technologies like Moodle and this makes a heck of a lot of sense.  Web technologies allow students to interact with each other, to be more active in their learning and also allows the teacher to adapt the course on the fly to better meet the needs of individual students.  Video conferencing will remain an important point of contact for teacher and students, but the nature of that hour lesson is changing.  It is fast becoming a tutorial rather than a way for the teacher to deliver content.  It makes no sense to use it to deliver content when that can all be put in the online environment (Moodle in our case).  When all our schools have fibre I do expect to see the VC unit become even less important and the flexibility of desktop video conferencing dominating.

So a transition to online learning does not mean less contact between teacher and student.  It actually means there is far more opportunity for the teacher to provide regular feedback than the old VC model.  Once upon a time this contact was limited to one vc a week and some emailing.  Now teachers have a whole host of tools at their disposal.  This includes the VC, online forums for students to connect, google docs for one to one feedback (the like of which you rarely see face to face), voicethreads, wallwishers, the list of interactive web 2.0 tools goes on.

The challenge with all this comes with both the readiness of our schools to resource this sort of learning and the ability of some students to cope with a model of learning that places more emphasis on the them managing their learning.  Mind you, that last statement sounds awfully familiar…it might even appear in a certain curriculum document.

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